A short term mission trip packing list – without screwing up the poor

If you want to be part of the solution, and not the problem, you want to start by unpacking the short term mission trip packing list. Let me suggest you consider leaving these three things at home:

Your Money

Your Camera

Your Solutions


Why? These are the three most common seeds of destruction for projects  to help the poor.


If you bring money

Your wallet will help you to see the community and its problems through a financial lens. It will be hard for you to see otherwise.

As outsiders we ask, “How much to fix the problem? Only $50? … well I can do that!”and we pass out the bucks.  This action, always with the best of intentions only reinforces the opinion that outside resources are the most important part of the project. Would you pay every time you and a friend meet for coffee at home? Not if you see yourself in an equal friendship. Paying for everything only reinforces an unequal relationship.

Leave your wallet behind.


When you pull out your camera

You highlight that you are the observer and others are the observed.  You control the subject matter, the picture and the story that is told. The people on the other side of the camera … they are not in control of the picture.

They are the project.

Who needs to tell the story? What story are you telling of others? Don’t be a tourist, leave your camera for that more important instagram of your lunch


No solutions?

What might happen if you kept your solutions in your back pocket?   When you unpack your short term mission trip packing list you leave room for others. If you leave your own solution at home, it might mean that you first look for someone else’s solution.

Every community has solutions. Great solutions.

The problem is that local solutions are are always invisible to outsiders at first.  Start looking around, you will find them (it may take a couple of years – time well spent).

If you don’t own a solution then someone else does, and when you leave (and you always will) you won’t have to try and transfer your solution to someone else.

Leave your money, camera and solutions at home and come join a community as a friend not a benefactor.


What do you need to unpack from your short term mission trip packing list?

October 31, 2016

6 responses on "A short term mission trip packing list - without screwing up the poor"

  1. Just wondering about leaving the camera at home. A picture is worth a thousand words and if used with “discretion” it can communicate need can’t it? By sharing stories with pictures it is motivating for others to come along isn’t it? There seems a tension in this otherwise websites should only contain text. Your thoughts?

    • Hi Bill, great thoughts on the issue – you raise important questions. Here are a few of my own:

      – The camera is important and necessary for raising money, but is that the point of mission?
      – How often do we see the same image of the poor as mere recipients of our generosity … do we have a responsibility there?
      – If we were going to use the camera in different ways, what would that look like – here is one idea: https://stmleader.com/the-rookie-mistake-people-make-when-they-try-to-help-the-poor/
      – do we need the camera as much as we think? Is it possible for us to bring it out much later in the process?

      I don’t think we need new hard and fast rules, but as general guidelines I often suggest to people to keep their cameras away until the halfway point of a trip and then only take the kind of photos you would want taken of yourself – IE no poverty porn!

      thats my 2 … love to hear your thoughts!

  2. Hey Mark great blog brother! Being a part of the Risk conference in May last year in Calgary that you were one of the speakers at and now one of our leaders being a part of your STM starter Kit training is transforming how our church views and does STMs! Thank You

    • Thanks Fernanado! appreciate the comment! the World of Risk Seminar last year was a lot of fun and we hope to do something again in YYC … stay tuned! Also love working with your team on the Best Prep Kit – Team Leader Training.

  3. definitely, i find that these three ‘rules’ are the list of Thous shalt NOT basics to begin. Once you start here, you can eventually begin to work on the Thous SHALTS necessary for success!

  4. This is great Mark! The simplicity is deceptive though. Because those 3 elements are our natural defaults in the West, it takes a lot of unlearning and patience to overcome them.

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